Bilbies not bunnies this easter


Photo by Michael Coghlan CC BY-SA 2.0

Consider the bilby

Holly Edwards-Smith, Reporter

Easter this year falls on Saturday 21 April. It was traditionally associated with Christianity but originated as a pagan holiday well before the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In 21st Century Australia, Easter is recognised as a national holiday. There are public holidays on Good Friday, Easter Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. Four days of celebration with months of preparation.

It’s not a secret that commercial businesses begin flogging holiday items early. This year hot cross buns appeared in stores from January and Easter eggs and gifts were soon to follow, with fluffy bunny toys and Lindt chocolate bunnies lining our supermarket shelves.

However, this Easter I pose a question. Is there something else we should be focusing on? When Easter rolls around in Australia there is another small, furry animal that needs our attention?

Consider the bilby.

You may have noticed a bilby choccie hidden and dust ridden at the back of the shelf, but that’s not where they should be.

In a time where Easter is celebrated in some form by Christians, atheists and agnostics alike we should use this holiday to consider our native animals.

During Christmas we have the six white Boomers and this Easter I implore you to have a look at what you can do to save the Bilby.

Being a generalist species, that can thrive in multiple environmental conditions, the bilby once covered 70% of Australia. That number has now dwindled to around 15%. That is a drastic change.

Bilbies now live in the Gibson and the Great and Little Sandy Deserts, alongside the Pilbara and Kimberley regions in WA. The bilby can also be found in the Mitchell Grasslands of southwest Queensland and the Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory.

Kevin Bradley, CEO of the Save the Bilby fund has been fighting for the bilby since 2002. Bradley told NewsvineWA that a lot more needs to be known about the plight of the bilby.

The bilby’s main threats are introduced predators like the Red Fox and competitors like European rabbits. Also with less of the ‘mosaic pattern burning’, predominantly practiced by Australian aborigines, and more wild bush fires, the bilby’s natural habitat is being destroyed.

Bradley explained that when the Save the Bilby fund began about 20 years ago the bilby was thought of as a “mythical creature like the Bunyip”, due to its evasive nature and that they are a nocturnal marsupial.

He added that bilbies can be thought of as a flagship species for animals in a similar situation. “If we save the Bilby, we can save hundreds of other species facing the same threat,” he said.

The importance of saving the bilby isn’t only acknowledged by Bradley’s group and similar organisations. The Australian Government recently released a ‘National Recovery Plan for the Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagoti)’.

The overall objectives listed in the summary are:

1. “To improve and at least maintain the national conservation status of the greater Bilby (currently listed nationally as Vulnerable) over the duration of the plan.
2. “To achieve an accurate assessment of distribution (both extent of occurrence and area of occupancy), trends in occurrence, and successfully reduce the impacts of key threatening processes. “

Indigenous tracking is a major and integral aspect of the plight of the bilby as 80% of the bilby population lives on Indigenous land. Various groups around Australia are working alongside Indigenous experts to harness their first-hand knowledge.

When discussing the work of the Indigenous rangers, Bradley said, “I can’t express enough how important the traditional owners are.”

Bilbies are often brought up around Easter and then are soon forgotten. Bradley believes that it should be “Bilbies not bunnies every Easter” and that celebrating the introduced rabbit, which has caused severe environmental and agricultural harm is “ludicrous”.

Bradley knows that they experience the same threats “365 days a year, 24 hours a day”, which is why National Bilby Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of September and is the only national day for a native animal.

Although unlikely to catch the sneaky bilby in the wild, Bradley suggests avoiding interaction with them and reporting the sighting to local authorities to assist in tracking and research.

So, this Easter eat hot cross buns, chocolate and decorate eggs as you please, but keep in mind that the plight of the bilby is a race against time as Bradley says they are “vulnerable today, endangered tomorrow”.